I’m not sure when the decision was first made. Maybe back in elementary school during the dreaded “gymnastics” portion of gym class, where two dozen girls and boys would line up across from one another and have to perform somersaults, backflips, and cartwheels down a padded vinyl mat that stretched for miles. Every eye of your classmates glued to your success or failure.
Give me a book to read, a paper to write, or a desk to clean and I was at the top of my game. But cartwheels? Well – let’s just say that I’m going to be 31 next week and I’ve yet to successfully manage a cartwheel. It’s not in my genetic makeup to have my feet flying over my head while all of my weight is balanced precariously on my hands. Fear took over and nothing I could say to myself on that gymnastics mat could ever convince my body to do what was necessary to achieve success.
And I did talk to myself. Willing myself to do just one more. To try just one more time. And apparently I didn’t talk to myself internally, but whispered pleas aloud that other students heard..and commented on…adding to my embarrassment at failing. I decided that I would avoid humiliation by never attempting anything I wasn’t at least 95% sure I would finish with success.
So I learned to be successful at the things that came naturally to me, but I never learned to fail at the things that took risk. The list of adventures I’ve avoided because my “failure” radar went on full alert is longer than most people’s “bucket lists” and I regret it. I regret the lessons lost, the moments made, the stories to tell. I regret not learning how to fail well, because now? I struggle with this perfectionism issue. The one that layers expectations on my responsibilities; the one that tells me I should just do it right the first time and never need anyone to offer edits; the one that causes my heart to hurt when I’m corrected or rebuked because I don’t know how to fail gracefully and still love the witnesses.
I have failed. I will fail. And through those moments, as God softens my heart and reveals truth to me and tells me that success and failure are real but have no bearing on His love for me, I have a choice to make. I can choose the comfortable path I’ve been on, or I can choose to risk, to keep showing up, to love anyway, and to look at a moment of failure for what it is – a singular moment, not the sum of who God has created me to be. It’s a chance to reach out and invite someone else into my mess, to ask them to use the gifts God has given them to pray for or encourage me. It’s a moment to say to the world “I’m not perfect, and I need your help” – and to humbly acknowledge that none of what I do, whether successful or not, happens without God.
Community is made up of imperfect people who fail and those they invite to come alongside them to share in their journey. Community isn’t just about sharing success stories and accolades – though the cheering & celebrating are essential – but it’s also about choosing to gather humbly over cups of coffee and admit that we’re just…human. Women with messy lives and failures and moments that God uses to make more room in our hearts for Him, as we lean closer into His plan for our lives when we feel weak.
So when I come to the decision to risk or save face, I will risk and ask Jesus to shine through where I’m weakest. And I will encourage my daughter to try and fail and keep trying because failure? It’s just a moment. But what God can teach us in those moments is eternal.